My life#10 – The Army – A wife’s view

“The Army” series, came about through my Niece, Penny, requesting some information on my Army days. She was doing some sort of project that required a “behind the scenes” view of military life, so I started to jot things down.

I got a little carried away!

My wife was also asked for her views and this is what she wrote

For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.

Dear Penny

Peter seems to be writing his autobiography for you so, as I “only” had 20 years experience of coping with separation, I have tackled it in a different way.

To put my feelings into context, separation in all its forms is extremely hard, but I learned to use coping strategies and also became almost a different person i.e. putting on armour or another character to deal with house moves and arrogant officials.

The whole experience has made me a different, stronger, and more confident person, at least on the surface. You learn to hide your vulnerabilities to enable you to succeed.

The other factor is that I have a wonderfully supportive, and very loving husband who endured my tears of temper and frustration, and many bouts of haranguing, against the almost incomprehensible military system.

I also had a very loving family who sustained Claire and I with letters, phone calls, visits, and parcels. Sadly many have now passed away or, like Mum, moved into a world not accessible to us, although still with us. We owe them a huge debt.

Effects of Separation

Feelings of Isolation

A move to a strange country with a different language is a huge challenge but add into the mix the addition of a 3 month old baby and a husband who went away 3 days after arrival makes the situation very difficult.

Exercise is a military term for practising war manoeuvres and is not without its dangers. There are deaths and injuries but during our time there was no communication with families and so the rumour mill was rife which added to anxiety levels.

I also suffered from severe post natal depression and the “cure” advised by the Doctor was to get out with my baby and walk. This I did religiously almost obsessively and never had a weight problem.

I also missed my family. It wasn’t easy to phone then. No mobile phone to hand or even a land line for many years.

Anxiety

Separation increases feelings of anxiety so every small cough sniffle from the baby intensifies the normal fears of the new mother. This carries on when the child is older and away at school and causes feelings of helplessness.

Integration

I am neither an extrovert nor social person so to make friends was a challenge. As Claire went to kindergarten, and school, friendships formed via the school gate, but only one has remained a long standing friendship. I would enjoy talking to people, but I had nothing in common with most, plus the Army is quite a hierarchical society and I was betwixt and between officers and the rest. I spoke and acted like an Officer’s wife but Peter was not an officer. I ended up doing my own thing which proved very useful once I was in a managerial position.

I made a valiant effort at first to attend the “Wives Club” and became the Secretary etc but once Claire was at Boarding School I stopped going.

Hardship and fears

External stressful situations intensified the feeling of loss during separations. These included terrorist threats in Germany and Cyprus. These were very real, and resulted in the threat alert being raised to red, and lock down situations in the housing areas. The children were guarded on school buses and sentries were posted at all school entrances. Cars were thoroughly checked before driving away.

You will have seen this on news reports but we were subjected to these scenarios for years.

Ireland of course was extremely tense and we lived inside a fortified camp. You had to be very aware when you went to town but it is extremely difficult to disguise the fact that you are English.

Life appeared normal but once you returned to the UK you realised how great the tensions had become.

The Hebrides although a glorious place, and in many ways a wonderful posting, during the extreme weather the hardship was intense. Power cuts were frequent, and lengthy and, as the house was heated by electricity, as was cooking, this was a huge problem. Peter would ensure that we had paraffin for our heater before going to St Kilda but as he was away for 6/8 weeks at a time stocks could run out and if the weather was severe it was both impossible to travel for supplies or, in the worst case scenarios, for the supplies to reach the islands.

Boarding School

This is an area of great anguish and so I will only reveal superficial feelings.

Anger, huge loss, desperation and sorrow are some of the feelings. Guilt is perhaps the greatest and I am not sure I have forgiven myself. School is only referred to fleetingly now as it brings back too many painful memories for all of us.

It was necessary for Claire’s education due to Peter’s many postings but was a very painful experience that Claire will not discuss.

I have to be honest and say my initial scribbling were more open and frank but I found that it had distressed me immensely so I have curtailed the official report. I suppose that is the real effect of separation – effects go deep and never really disappear, they are only hidden under a myriad of self protection

Love Erica

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